The World’s Biggest Aircraft – the Rocket-Launching Stratolaunch – Completes its First Test Flight

In 2011, Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen and Scaled Composites founder Burt Rutan announced the creation of Stratolaunch Systems. With the goal of reducing the associated costs of space launches, the company set out to create the world’s largest air-launch-to-orbit system. After many years, these efforts bore fruit with the unveiling of the massive Scaled Composites Model 351 Stratolaunch air carrier in the Summer of 2017.

Similar in principle to Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, this behemoth is designed to deploy rockets from high altitudes so they can send payloads to Low-Earth Orbit (LEO). After multiple tests involving engine preburns and taxiing on the runway, the aircraft made its inaugural flight last weekend (Saturday, April 13th) and flew for two and half hours before safely landing again in the Mojave Desert.

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Metal Asteroid Psyche Might Have Had Volcanoes of Molten Iron

An artist's illustration of a metallic asteroid like Psyche. Image Credit: Elena Hartley/USC

Imagine a time in the Solar System’s past where the asteroids were not solid rock, but blobs of molten iron. It sounds strange, but that may have been the case. And in the right conditions, some of those asteroids would have sprouted volcanoes. One of those asteroids, Psyche, is the destination for a NASA mission.

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Mars Helicopter Completes More Test Flights. It’s Almost Ready to go to Mars

Members of the NASA Mars Helicopter team inspect the flight model (the actual vehicle going to the Red Planet), inside the Space Simulator, a 25-foot-wide (7.62-meter-wide) vacuum chamber at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, on Feb. 1, 2019. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

We’ve known for some time that NASA is sending a helicopter to Mars. The vehicle, called the Mars Helicopter, is undergoing flight testing at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. The little helicopter will make its eventual way to Mars as part of the Mars 2020 Rover mission.

The Mars Helicopter is pretty small, less than 1.8 kg (4 lb). It’s made of lightweight carbon fiber, and other materials like aluminum, silicon, and foil. The version being tested is the actual vehicle that will make the trip to Mars.

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SpaceX Releases a New Render of What the All-Steel Starship Will Look Like Returning to Earth

The design for SpaceX’s Starship (aka. Big Falcon Rocket) is really starting to come together! Over the holidays, sections of the Starship Hopper (a miniature version of the Starship) were photographed being put together at the company’s South Texas Launch Site. By mid-January, the parts were fully-integrated, forming the body of the stainless-steel prototype that would test the spacecraft’s overall architecture.

What followed, earlier this month, were tests of the Starship’s hexagonal heat shields to determine if they would offer sufficient protection during re-entry. And now, in anticipation of the spacecraft’s eventual launch, SpaceX released an eye-popping new rendering of the Starship that shows what it would look like reentering Earth’s atmosphere.

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Hayabusa2 Left a Dark Spot Where it Touched Down on Ryugu. Engineers Aren’t Sure Why

On June 27th, 2018, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency‘s (JAXA) Hayabusa2 spacecraft rendezvoused with the asteroid 162173 Ryugu. Carrying on in the same tradition as its predecessor, Hayabusa2 recently conducted landing operations on the asteroid’s surface as part of the agency’s second sample-return mission from an asteroid.

The landing took place on February 22nd, 2019, after several weeks of careful preparations. One minute after successfully touching down with its “sampling horn” extended, the spacecraft lifted off again. That’s when mission controllers noticed something interesting about the patch of ground where Hayabusa2 had landed.

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Signs that Ancient Rivers Flowed Across the Surface of Mars, Billions of Years Ago

A topographic image of an area of anceint riverbeds on Mars. Created with data from the High-Resolution Stereo Camera on the Mars Express Orbiter. Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/ESA_Multimedia/Copyright_Notice_Images

Billions of years ago, Mars was likely a much warmer and wetter place than the cold, dry, barren world we see today. Whether there was life there or not remains an open question. But there’s a massive, growing wall of evidence showing that Mars may have had the necessary conditions for life in the past, including at least one system of river valley networks.

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Mars One, the Plan to Make a Reality Show on Mars, is Bankrupt

An artist's illustration of a Mars settlement. Image: Bryan Versteeg/MarsOne

In 2012, Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp launched the world’s first private and crowdsourced-effort to create a permanent outpost on Mars. Known as Mars One, this organization was the focus of a lot of press since it’s inception, some of it good, most of it bad. While there were many who called the organization’s plan a “suicide mission” or a “scam”, others invested their time, energy, and expertise to help make it happen.

In addition, thousands of volunteers signed on for the adventure, willing to risk life and limb to become part of the first one-way trip to the Red Planet. Unfortunately, we may never get to know if Bas Lansdorp’s plan for colonizing Mars was feasible or even sincere. According to a recent declaration by a Swiss Court, Mars One Ventures (the for-profit arm of Mars One) is now bankrupt.

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New SpaceX Raptor Engine Beats the Chamber Pressure of Russia’s RD-180 Engine, According to Elon Musk

2019 has been shaping up to be an interesting year for SpaceX and its founder, Elon Musk. After completing work on the miniaturized version of the Starship (Starship Alpha or “Starship hopper”) over the holidays, SpaceX moved ahead with the test-firing of its new Raptor engine in late January/early February. In accordance with Musk’s vision, these engines will give the Starship the necessary thrust to reach the Moon and Mars.

The test-firing took place at SpaceX’s Rocket Development and Test Facility, located just outside of McGregor, Texas. As Musk recently tweeted, the tests went very well, achieving the thrust necessary for both the Starship and its first-stage booster, the Super-Heavy. Musk also claimed that the engine broke the previous record for combustion chamber pressure, which was established by the Russian RD-180.

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Elon Musk’s New Plan is to Get to the Moon as Fast as Possible

For Elon Musk and SpaceX, the company he founded to reignite space exploration, a great deal hinges on the creation of the Starship. This super-heavy launch vehicle, which was has evolved considerably in the past few years, will eventually replace the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy as the mainstay of the SpaceX fleet. Once operational, it will also facilitate missions to the Moon and eventually Mars.

Once again, Elon Musk has used his social media platform of choice to share the latest details about the Starship‘s progress. As he shared in a series of tweets, which began on Thursday, Jan. 31st, the company has commenced test-firing the Raptor engine at their Rocket Development and Test Facility in McGregor, Texas, and is pushing towards the Starship’s first mission.

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